While it might seem like a non-issue, your pandemic hires may be feeling disconnected and confused.

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Image: fizkes/shutterstock

Among the various concerns facing tech leaders, recent hires from the era of pandemic-induced remote working may not rank high on their lists. After all, these employees are likely people with whom other staff members may not have strong relationships. Perhaps they’ve even continued to work remotely since their hiring and have never set foot in a physical office or met their colleagues in person.

While seemingly happily and silently performing their job duties, this segment of your workforce is also the most likely to feel disconnected from you as a leader, their teammates and the organization more broadly. Even HR (human resources) executives report having no idea how new hires were adapting to their organizations, with 10% reporting they were unsure how new hires were adapting and 31% reporting that pandemic hires were struggling to make connections to their coworkers.

Obviously, we don’t need studies and surveys to understand that nearly 50% of new hires struggling to adapt to their new home is not conducive to success, especially in a challenging job market.

The lost orientation

One of the root causes for this disconnected feeling of your pandemic hires is the lack of formal orientation to your team. If you were like most companies pre-pandemic, you welcomed new hires into an office, let them complete some HR formalities, and then introduced them to the team and perhaps took them to lunch or a formalized in-person training program.

See: Is hybrid work working? (TechRepublic)

Like many tasks upset by the pandemic, new hires brought on amidst lockdowns and remote working were forced to improvise their onboarding to varying degrees. For many new hires, especially in the early days of remote working, a box appeared with a laptop and an hour or two of video conferences with their boss were all that was provided to establish a connection to their new employer before they were told to get to work.

Reorienting

These employees have likely figured out their job’s technical nuances and your organization. They’re likely doing good work; they know how to file the right documentation and complete administrative tasks. However, they probably don’t understand the cultural nuances of the company or, worse yet, don’t feel a connection and vested interest in the team and company much beyond seeing it as a source of compensation.

Many companies have recognized this phenomenon, and their typical response is to run these employees through recently reactivated in-person new hire orientation programs. That’s a logical approach. However, it’s also deeply frustrating for these new hires. Not only will they be spending a fair amount of time being taught all the administrative tasks they already know, but they’ll be networking and establishing connections with a bunch of new employees rather than connecting with the people they’ve already been working with.

Creating a one-off orientation program specifically for this group might seem challenging. Assuming the world is past the worst of the pandemic, it’s a program that will have a limited lifespan. However, a reorientation program need not be wildly complex and will have an outsize impact on engaging and retaining your hires from the most challenging days of the pandemic.

What to include in your reorientation

In addition to a heavy focus on in-person networking with the teams your hires have been working with virtually, spend time talking through the strategy of your team or group and the broader organization. These discussions are often lost in the virtual work environment, where the focus is on getting things done.

As a leader, share your vision for the future and how your team will help bring that vision to life. You might even consider having your reorientation in advance of your regular strategic planning session. This will allow you to share early thinking on your strategy and engage this group, but you can also solicit their input. Getting feedback from people who know your organization’s day-to-day but still bring a fresh set of perspectives and knowledge can be highly valuable.

Finally, create some moments that establish interpersonal connections. The obvious activities like team lunches and outings should be augmented with things that might include visiting a job site or production facility. You can also share personal stories using activities like sharing a treasure or picture of something you value. While this requires a bit of vulnerability, it also puts a very human story behind the faces that have largely been little more than avatars on a screen for many of your new hires.

While your pandemic-era hires may be productive and seemingly happy, taking the time to reorient them and connect them to your team and the broader organization will do wonders for long-term retention and connection.